Jackson Heights City Council candidate calls for bilingual education in public schools

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City Council candidate Shekar Krishnan makes the case for increased bilingual education in city schools during a Jackson Heights rally. (Photo courtesy of Krishnan’s campaign)

In a neighborhood celebrated as one of the most diverse in the nation, where nearly 180 foreign languages are spoken, one City Council candidate has presented his case for bilingual education in every public school in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.

Shekar Krishnan outlined his plan with Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who chairs the Task Force on New Americans, and multilingual public school parents and neighbors Tuesday, May 18, at the Jackson Heights post office.

“As a child of immigrants and a father, I want to make sure our schools embrace the languages of our homes, cultures and dreams. That’s why today I’m calling for bilingual education in every public school in District 24 and 30 with guaranteed seats for multilingual learners,” Krishnan said. “We are a community of immigrants and public school families. It is high time that our public schools support and reflect our families, values and embrace all languages other than English in the public school curriculum.”

He then introduced a five-point plan to to expand bilingual education in New York City schools. Krishnan said he wants to make sure that every multilingual learner is guaranteed a seat.

“This is how we build a just, equitable public school system that truly reflects our immigrant families in our neighborhoods,” he said.

In school districts 24 and 30, 60 percent of multilingual learners are eligible for bilingual education, though only 16 percent are enrolled in such programs, due to a lack of access to their schools.

School District 24 ranks lowest in the city for access to bilingual education, Krishnan explained. In addition, his plan calls for an inclusive and balanced approach to education, investing in educator training and certification and centering immigrant families in decision making.

“I’m a proud product of bilingual education,” Cruz said. “When I came to this country in 1992, I barely spoke a word of English. Bilingual education allowed me to learn the language of this country while still continuing to practice my mother language. I believe Shekar understands the importance of education that allows our children to keep our culture alive.”

Krishnan added that the lack of bilingual education programs is not only an impediment to student learning, but also to parents and guardians — especially immigrant families — ability to be actively involved in their child’s school and education. Krishnan is the son of immigrants from South Asia and Cruz is originally from Colombia, and they were joined by neighborhood parents speaking Mandarin Chinese, Bangla, Spanish and Nepali.

“Like so many people in Queens, I am a child of Korean immigrants,” CEC District 2 candidate Chuck Park said. “As a child, I was surrounded by Korean. Korean was the language of food, comfort, community, and my grandmother trying to put me to sleep. However, I can’t express what I just said in Korean because I didn’t have access to bilingual education. Bilingual education is about affirming our identities and celebrating the beautiful diversity that only exists in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.”

Krishnan is in a crowded field of candidates running to replace term-limited Councilman Daniel Dromm, and with the primary approaching on June 22, Krishnan issued an open letter to the Queens Board of Elections to bring attention to the lack of safe and convenient voting access for the residents of Elmhurst.

Currently, the only voting site for the residents of Elmhurst is located at the Queensborough Elks Lodge. Reaching the voting site is dangerous, as it requires voters to cross multi-lane Queens Boulevard, Krishnan said.

“Voting access is essential to safeguarding the right to vote and, in turn, our democratic process,” Krishnan said. “Elmhurst deserves the same access to early voting as other communities. I’m calling on the Board of Elections to establish an additional early voting site at the centrally located and accessible Queens Public Library-Elmhurst. Elmhurst is one of the most diverse immigrant communities in the country. Especially for a neighborhood like ours, New York City should be doing all we can to expand access.”